The debate rages on regarding what's most important in the NFL, pass rush or pass coverage?
To be an elite defense, you better have special talents in both areas. And the Rams can consider themselves in a select subset of franchises that boast such a tandem.
Are Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey the best rush-and-cover duo in the league?
We'll try to quantify that in a moment, but let's start with a subjective sentiment that most readers here will find agreeable: We wouldn't trade them for any other pairing in the NFL.
After all, Donald and I might be in the mix for best rush-and-cover duo, and I can't cover a grill.
Every time the All-Pro defensive tackle posts a picture of himself flexing, the Hall of Fame should be reminded it's not too early to start chiseling Donald's bust – in fact, go ahead and make his the first to include abs.
As for Ramsey, his accolades aren't as superlative, but plenty of informed minds around the NFL still view him as a preeminent threat to passing offenses. You can include the Rams front office in that group, as they indirectly chose him over Marcus Peters to be their future at corner, and paid a steep price to do so.
Using 2019 Pro Football Focus grades for coverage and pass rush, we can identify a list of tandems worth nominating as "the best in the NFL." For our query, we'll include defensive backs along with edge defenders and interior linemen, with a minimum of 450 defensive snaps played last year. We'll also display just one tandem per team. (More on this a bit later on, Vikings fans who happen to be reading this site. But the premise was: to be the best in the league, shouldn't you be the best on your team?)
Okay, so the Rams duo makes the Top 10.
However, we owe Ramsey a bit of context, here. His coverage grade with Los Angeles (71.9) was significantly higher than his three games with Jacksonville (57.8). Using just his Rams grade would have left Ramsey/Donald with an average grade of 82.35 – moving them up to eighth on this list.
Further, Ramsey's final five games of 2019 averaged 75.5. So, if you're inclined to grade him on the curve after a three-week hiatus and a midseason trade, using that figure returns an 84.2 average for Ramsey/Donald – good for seventh.
Of course, the samples just as easily can be massaged in favor of the other players. For one poignant example, look no further than Peters grading higher in coverage as a Raven (84.0) than as a Ram (76.8) in 2019.
Since the most recent season isn't necessarily the best indicator of future success, ideally we'd plumb a three-year depth of data, which actually produces an intriguing reordering of our Top 10 from above.
There you have it: Donald and Ramsey are the best rush-and-cover duo in the NFL. Why else would I be writing this article? Case closed.
In all seriousness, there are more nuanced conversations to be had about man or zone coverage strengths, scheme fit, age, contract value, and more. Some may like to see this lens narrowed to pure cover corners (excluding safeties), or even limited to edge rushers (thereby bouncing Donald and Jones).
This is not meant to be an exhaustive or conclusive study. Myles Garrett and Khalil Mack would like a word, after all. Likewise, Stephon Gilmore and Jamal Adams. It's hardly their fault they didn't have a corresponding teammate in 2019 to qualify them for this study.
Additionally, the good folks of Minneapolis would rightly argue that alongside Anthony Harris is fellow Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who boasted the second-best coverage grade in the NFL last season. So even the concept of a rush-and-cover "duo" is admittedly exclusive to a fault. (Once again, we'd like to thank Skol for their patronage of the Rams official site.)
Nonetheless, hope you found it an enjoyable exercise. And one that validates the belief that Donald and Ramsey belong in any such conversation, with ample reason for optimism based off their results down the stretch for the 2019 Rams.